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School District 308 finance committee discusses budget reduction

‘Unofficial’ straw poll puts cuts at between $8 million and $10 million

School District 308’s Board of Education’s finance and operations committee read through options and discussed potential budget cuts during a meeting Tuesday evening.

“Tonight, we have one focus,” Board Vice President Lauri Doyle told the committee. “This is where we want to start, getting your ideas from a financial perspective.”

Doyle explained during the meeting that board members had taken an informal and unofficial straw poll that showed that they are looking to make between $8 million and $10 million in budget cuts.

The district currently has a projected surplus of $1,792,169 for fiscal 2018, but if the district makes no cuts, the surplus will turn into a deficit of $3,076,863, according to information presented to the board Nov. 27.

As they did during a board meeting Nov. 27, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Asif Dada and Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Dr. Lisa Smith presented information on the district’s finances and potential cuts to the committee.

As the finance committee serves in an advisory capacity, a list was made of its recommendations that will be presented to the board for consideration at the board’s next meeting on Monday, Dec. 11.

Dada’s presentation recounted the district’s financial history, including details about the budget reductions already in place for the 2017-18 year that includes a second year of salary freezes at the administrative level, reductions in staff at the administrative level, and a reduction in support staff.

Dada also discussed several of the lost sources of revenue that have affected the district.

Smith’s presentation, while mostly the same as the one made at the Nov. 27 board meeting, featured slight changes based on recommendations from the board. One change to the funding of field trips went further than in Dada’s presentation. Dada noted that the district has already cut $120,000 worth of funding for field trips, mainly from transportation. Smith’s presentation went on to suggest the possibility of another $100,000 in cuts to field trip transportation costs. She explained that the transportation remained for trips if there was a competition involved, but the secondary cut would remove that funding.

In her presentation, Smith also discussed the possibility of raising a variety of student fees that, if approved, would put the district, “in the middle of the pack” in comparison to other area districts.

“Why haven’t we been increasing these fees over the years, so we don’t have to be playing catch-up to be in the middle?” asked Patrick Stiles, a committee member.

One of the fees that could possibly be raised was the $50 fee for high school students to park on school grounds, going to $100 or even $150.

That increase would earn at least $6,400 in revenue, according to Smith.

“You try and tell a parent that his kid has to pay $150 to park his car here versus $50, how do you explain that increase overnight? ‘Because we’re broke?’,” Stiles asked. “We should have been increasing these fees gradually, because you’re telling us that you’re increasing these fees to put us in the middle of the pack. Why weren’t we in the middle of the pack already?”

It was suggested that the increase in fees could be done incrementally, to avoid a sudden hike and any shock from the community.

After the Nov. 27 meeting, the board laid out a timeline of events leading to a decision on the budget. From Nov. 27 through Jan. 26, members of the board will visit at least three home and school or parent-teacher meetings in an effort to demonstrate transparency and discuss the budget cuts and fee increases under consideration.

At the Dec. 11 board meeting, the full board will review the list of recommendations provided by the administration, the recommendations provided by the finance committee, and will go through the recommendations line by line and make their own list.

A straw poll will be taken by the board in regards to each item on the list, with any item that receives four or more votes going on the board’s working list.

If the total sum of the items does not meet the board’s parameters, then the board will go through the list until that number is reached. If the total sum exceeds the board’s guidelines, then the board will vote on whether to stay with the larger sum, or to revisit items on the list. Any tasks not completed at the Dec. 11 meeting will be taken up at the Jan. 16 meeting.

Following the Dec. 11 and Jan. 16 meetings of the board, the finance committee will meet to discuss the list of recommendations created by the board. At the Jan. 29 meeting, all outstanding issues will be handled, and the board will vote on the agreed-upon list.

Community members can weigh in on the process by visiting the district’s website and using the “suggestion box” to suggest ways to reduce the budget, with optional spots to leave their name and email address. The suggestion box can be reached on the home page of the website,

The full board will next meet at 7:15 Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. Oswego East High School.

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